LARGO – The American right of free speech was seen and heard in action on Jan. 11 when 40 members of the organization Moveon.org held an anti-war rally near Rep. C.W. Bill Young’s office on West Bay Drive.
The rally was held to protest President Bush’s decision to escalate the war by sending an additional 21,000 troops to Iraq and to send a clear signal to Congress that many Americans vehemently disagree with the decision. Young was not present at the rally and his office had no response to the event.
The protesters were a diverse group ranging in age from an 8-year-old boy to an 88-year-old man. Holding signs with messages such as “Stop the Escalation!” and “Honk for Peace,” they waved to the 5 p.m. rush hour traffic surging past on the busy roads. Several of the demonstrators waved American flags with their peace signs, and one activist played a guitar and sang to the passing cars. Horns honked continuously with many drivers and passengers waving and flashing peace signs back at the demonstrators.
It was far from a one-sided event, however. Some passersby showed their dissent with emphatic hand gestures and shouts of “You ought to be ashamed of yourself” and “Support the U.S.A.!” Tempers flared on occasion, but overall it was a peaceful display of vastly differing opinions.
Moveon.org host Dan Tucker hoped the event would spur Congress to insist that Bush stop the escalation. He stated that the group had nothing against Congressman Young, and was grateful for his record of support for U.S. veterans.
“But we want to see less wounded in our VA hospitals, not more,” Tucker said.
Several of the activists were veterans themselves, including Milt Bronson, 74, of Largo, who served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“A lot of my friends died in those wars. It bothers me that our young people are dying in Iraq for no reason,” Bronson said.
Moveon.org, which was started in 1997 and has approximately 3.2 million members worldwide, hosted 300 rallies simultaneously at other locations. According to a press release, “the nonpartisan organization is dedicated to using legitimate information to battle smoke and mirrors with the truth.”
“Eighty-two percent of Americans are against this escalation, including the commanding generals in Iraq who formally opposed it,” he said.
Mother and daughter Loretta and Hannah Schaffert of Clearwater held signs and waved. Hannah, 10, said it was her first peace rally and she was glad she came because, “My teacher has a relative in the war. I want to bring our troops home.”
When asked whether protests can make a difference, Terry Hamilton-Wollin of Indian Rocks Beach said, “I think it is important for people to see us and engage with us. They are driving along and suddenly realize they can do something.”
Moveon.org has a local chapter, the Council for Pinellas County, which meets once a month. For more information, visit www.Moveon.org.